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Sierra Daily: June 2012
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17 posts from June 2012

Jun 14, 2012

An Updated, Alternatively-Fueled Dallas

Dallas_photobook_ipadresized_01_925x591Perhaps you didn’t watch the long-running nighttime soap opera Dallas when it was a hit starting in 1978 on ABC. But if we throw in alternative energy and a land-conservancy deal, will you watch it now? The new Dallas, running on the TNT network, still revolves around oil, cattle, greed, family rivalries, and cliffhangers, all set on Texas’ infamous Southfork Ranch, but now one of (Who Shot…) J.R. Ewing’s kin is pushing “alternative energy” in the form of (very problematic) seabed methane and driving around cattle country in an electric Tesla Roadster.

According to the Globe and Mail, Christopher Ewing, the adopted son of J.R.’s brother Bobby, is “extracting gas frozen in underwater ice, prompting such memorable soap opera lines as ‘Do you think in time methane can be safely extracted from the seabed?’ Bobby, meanwhile, wants to turn Southfork into conservation parkland, just as John Ross, J.R.'s devious kin, has found a two-million barrel reserve right on the ranch. It's good environmentalism versus evil, gluttonous oil as John Ross and his girlfriend Elena make out, their faces slick with oil from a gushing rig that also sets the riggers fistbumping.”

Despite lines like “I know that I can make Ewing Alternative Energies the next Exxon,” the New York Times isn’t impressed:  "This version is palely faithful to the original without any of its seditious zest," writes critic Alessandra Stanley. ”In 1978 the Texas economy was booming, while the rest of the country was still struggling. Rich Texans were loud, proud, vulgar, exotic and extravagant. (The Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog that year offered a $600 all-chocolate Monopoly game.) There is still plenty of money in Texas, but attention, and wasteful extravagance, have shifted elsewhere, to Internet moguls, billionaires, Wall Street bond traders and Russian tycoons. They are the ones buying Park Avenue mansions, basketball teams and art. Texans used to be big hat; now they are old hat. So, unfortunately, is Dallas.”

Image: TNT

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra.  He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term.  For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s  Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

Sock Gremlins of the Sierra Nevada

CR_fisherPlease do not send Rick Sweitzer any more socks. He's got all he needs, thank you. "We received so many we're donating them to homeless shelters," says the University of California, Berkeley, researcher. "We're spreading the wealth."

The deluge of hosiery came after Sweitzer exhausted his own sock drawer and turned to the public to help him document the Pacific fisher, a secretive tree-dwelling relative of the wolverine and weasel that is so tough that it regularly dines on porcupine and beaver (although not, interestingly, fish). Fishers once ranged throughout the West Coast, but trapping and logging reduced their numbers to the point where environmentalists have fought for 12 years to get them listed as an endangered species. Sweitzer is trying to keep tabs on the population of perhaps a hundred fishers that live south of the Merced River in Sierra National Forest. That's where the socks come in. Sweitzer and his team fill them with road kill and dangle them from trees, and then motion-sensitive cameras snap away while the hungry mustelids tear the socks apart.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has promised to rule on protection for the Pacific fisher in 2014.

Photo by Michael Nichols/National Geographic Stock

HS_PaulRauberFINAL (1)

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

Jun 12, 2012

A Poet Remembers Hurricane Katrina

Trethewey2gbLast week Emory University English and creative writing professor Natasha Trethewey was named the latest U.S. poet laureate. At 46, she is one of the youngest writers to hold the post. She is also the first Southerner since Robert Penn Warren (1986) and the first African American since Rita Dove (1993) to gain the title.

Writes Ted Genoways, editor at large of OnEarth: “It’s especially worth noting, because Trethewey’s work can be understood as an extension and argument with those two poets. She shares their interest in history, in the divisions of race, and the ways in which landscape can embody hidden pasts. For Trethewey, that landscape is her native Gulfport, Mississippi, a region beset by the legacy of racism and, more recently, by the catastrophes of Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

You can watch a fine reading of Trethewey’s “Liturgy,” a poem Genoways describes as “a brilliant, panoramic incantation, offered as praise-song and elegy for her lost home,” at the OnEarth blog. The poem is also included in Trethewey’s book Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (University of Georgia Press, 2010).

Image: Emory University


HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term.  For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s  Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

Jun 11, 2012

"Sea-Level Rise" and Other Left-Wing Terms

MonkeyObjective reality continues to prove controversial in the Mid-Atlantic region. Last month, North Carolina made waves by attempting to outlaw sea-level rise. Now Virginia has decided that the very term "sea-level rise" is a "left-wing term" that should be replaced by the anodyne "recurrent flooding."

The linguistic kerfuffle arose when state lawmakers attempted to appropriate $138,000 for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to lead a study on the danger posed by acombination of sea-level rise and land subsidance. The combination of these factors makes low-lying areas of Virginia second only to New Orleans regarding risk from rising seas.

But the Virginia Tea Party objects to the term "sea-level rise," which State Senator Chris Stolle branded a "left-wing term." According to PilotOnline.com, Stolle told bill sponsor State Senator Ralph Northam that unless the term were changed, the bill would end up in the "circular file."

The semantics dance harkens to the days when "global warming" was commonly uttered. But after conservatives criticized and ridiculed Al Gore and others, "climate change" became the kinder, gentler way to communicate the same thing.

Now it appears that "climate change" and "sea level rise" are being phased out, in Virginia at least, amid political pressure from the far right. Emerging labels include "increased flooding risk," "coastal resiliency" and, of course, "recurrent flooding."

What's interesting here is that the Tea Party legislators are not opposed to studying sea-level rise--which, after all, threatens the beachfront property of Democrats and Republicans alike--they just don't want to be complicit in anything approaching the acknowledgment of climate change. Let's hope Tea Party lexicographers are at work on an acceptable substitute for "stop burning fossil fuels."

HS_PaulRauberFINAL (1)

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

Jun 08, 2012

Revenge of Natural Gas?

Fracking iStock_000017667465LargeWill natural gas kill the electric car? So asks Talking Points Memo, noting that the Argonne National Research Laboratory, ground zero for the U.S. Department of Energy’s research into electric and hybrid vehicles over the past two decades, is pushing into research of natural gas powered vehicles as natural gas prices drop and domestic supplies soar.

“Our conclusion is that natural gas as a transportation fuel has both adequate abundance and cost advantages that make a strong case to focus interest in the technology as a real game changer in U.S. energy security,” said Mike Duoba, an engineer at Argonne. “In terms of consumer ownership and use costs, the case to make a switch from current fuels to CNG is much more compelling than for other alternative fuels like ethanol and electricity,” Duoba added.

Compressed natural gas is a valid option from a national-energy-security standpoint: 87 percent of the natural gas consumed in the United States in 2011 was produced domestically, with the rest coming from Canada and Mexico. But the fuel is hardly the solution to our dinosaur-based transportation woes. Natural gas is a better fuel environmentally than gasoline, but not by a lot.  A natural gas powered vehicle like the Honda Civic Natural Gas (formerly called the Civic GX) only saves 25 percent on carbon emissions per mile compared to its comparable gasoline-powered counterpart, notes TPM. According to a 2010 report from MIT, “In general, 1,000 cubic feet (cf) of natural gas, converted to electricity, yields 457 miles in an EV. This same 1,000 cf in an NGV would only have a range of around 224 miles.” 

Photo by iStock/jonmullen

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra.  He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term.  For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s  Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

 

The Yes Men and Greenpeace Punk Their Friends

Perhaps you've seen the video, widely circulated yesterday (and reluctantly reposted below), that purports to show the comic malfunction of a fountain at a party put on by Shell Oil to celebrate its imminent drilling of the Arctic. If you happened to hear about it from my humble Twitter account (@paulrauber), where I mentioned it as soon as I saw it posted on Grist and Treehugger, my sincere apologies--because, as we soon learned, the too-good-to-be-true event was a hoax.

Today, a boasting press release reveals that the perpatrators were the Yes Men and Greenpeace:

"What Shell is preparing to do in the Arctic is the height of obscenity," said Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Lab. "We've got to do everything we possibly can to draw attention to this unfolding disaster, and more importantly we've got to stop it."

"The melting Arctic is becoming a defining environmental issue of our era, and this campaign is just a taste of what's to come," said [Greenpeace's James] Turner.

Isn't that great? Our cause is so important that lying about it is justified. Scientists worldwide are issuing urgent warnings that Earth and its ecosystems are at a tipping point, but that isn't attention-getting enough for Greenpeace and the Yes Men. In the future, every piece of alarming climate news--and there will be many--will have to be scrutinized to see if it might not be someone's idea of a prank. That's not necessarily a bad thing--part of what news organizations are supposed to do is assess the credibility of information and report only what they conclude to be true.

But what bugs me in this case is that for the sake of a few clicks on their video, Greenpeace and the Yes Men punk'd their colleagues in the environmental press, playing us for propagandists who, once the deception was revealed, could be expected to laugh the whole incident off as a clever joke.

Sorry, Yes Men, but no thanks. 

 

HS_PaulRauberFINAL (1)

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

 

 

Jun 06, 2012

The Sky Really Is Falling

Climate iStock_000014972393XSmallThis writer usually prefers news items about remarkable technological innovations and inspiring, newly discovered species over those portending environmental doom and gloom. But a paper published today in Nature is enough to get me to wince and face the cold, hard facts. According to “Approaching a State Shift in Earth’s Biosphere,” we Earth dwellers may be very close to a planetary “tipping point” in which irreversible change will be upon us. The culprits: a warming climate and expanding global population and economic growth that rapidly deplete energy and food and consume natural landscapes. Acknowledging inherent uncertainties, the scientists who authored the paper in advance of Rio+20, the June follow-up to the Earth Summit held two decades ago, nevertheless describe warning signs that a “state shift” on a planetary scale “could arrive within a few human generations, if not sooner."

The authors concluded that global ecosystems can react just like small-scale ecosystems: Once 50 to 90 percent of an ecosystem is altered, the ecological web can collapse. Humans have already converted 43 percent of the ice-free bits of our planet to farming or habitation. Extrapolating from current trends, we’ll reach the 50 percent mark by 2025. Uh-oh.

“The situation scares the hell out of me,” said report co-author James H. Brown, macroecologist at the University of New Mexico and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Photo by iStock/MichaelUtech

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra.  He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term.  For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s  Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

 


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